If you have hung around these pages for any length of time you will have a pretty clear idea of my own preferences when it comes to my personal iOS musical toolkit. I’m a guitar playing, synth using (my keyboard skills are basic), recording nut with a soft spot for working with audio loops and drum instruments (acoustic or electric) that give me rhythmic options that my limited (but improving) drum skills don’t allow me to play live. I’m perhaps less into really deep synths or self-assembly synths simply because I don’t have the knowledge/expertise to fully exploit them…. although I can certainly appreciate the technical brilliance that has gone into developing them.
Like most iOS musicians I suspect, I’ve also got a few favourite developers (Steinberg, Korg, Bram Bos, Klevgränd Produktion, Kymatica, Novation, Arturia…. well, the list could go on) whose new releases I’m always keen to explore. Which is why I was quite happy to see VirSyn’s latest release – ReSlice – appear on the App Store earlier in the week.
VirSyn have a well-deserved and long-standing reputation for desktop music software that is perhaps based upon slightly quirky, left-of-centre, products. Yes, they do ‘synths’ but there is generally something a little bit unusual about them in terms of the visual design or sound engine. And, over the last few years, they are also one of the more established (if not quite mainstream) desktop developers that have really gone for it in terms of iOS support. For that reason alone, I think many iOS musicians have a soft spot for their products….
As do I…. I like their synths (Addictive Pro, for example, is excellent), they have a great design in their arpeggiator (as a separate app and built into many of the synth apps) and, in AudioReverb, Tap Delay and Emo Chorus, have some cool effects apps, while their previous release – AudioEffx – serves a solid role as a general multi-effects app. They have also made some progress down the AU route which is good to see….
So, yes, I was pleased to see ReSlice appear and was – as usual with a VirSyn app – looking forward to exploring. Now, if all this introductory blether is beginning to sound like it might have a ‘but…’ coming, then it does… However, it’s a ‘but….’ in a very good way.
On the surface, ReSlice sounds like a fairly straightforward iOS implementation of a well-established music technology; you take an audio loop, slice it based upon its transients, map the slices across a MIDI note range, and then trigger the slices from a MIDI keyboard. So far, so ReCycle, from way-back when even desktop music tech was in short trousers. That part of ReSlice is very well implemented, works great and would perhaps be reason enough to give the app a spin for many folk, me included.
However, in ReSlice, VirSyn have then built in a considerable twist; their arpeggiator technology… and not just any old arpeggiator; they have also given it multiple ‘play-heads’ (not unlike those found in Fugue Machine) that can step through the arp sequence at different timebases and with different step counts.
The result, when you put these two different features together, is something that is most certainly bigger than the sum of the parts and that – personally – I think is quite brilliant. And, if you are the kind of electronic musician you loves to get creative with slicing and dicing audio loops, and also happens to love the rhythmic-meets-melodic possibilities that a clever bit of arpeggiation can bring, then you are in for a bit of a treat….
ReSlice might look very VirSyn (that’s to say, just a little understated) but, once you get into the workflow, the end results can be nothing sort of magical.
Let’s start with some basics. ReSlice is a universal app that requires iOS9.1 or later and is a 50MB download. The launch price is a discounted UK£7.99/US$9.99. The app arrives with Audiobus, IAA, and AU support as well as working stand-alone. MIDI support means you can drive it either from an external MIDI keyboard/sequencer or via triggering slices from the touchscreen keyboard or waveform display (in the latter, you can change the playback pitch of a slice based upon where you tap on the waveform; a neat additional feature). MIDI Learn is also provided so, as well as triggering notes/slices, you can control much of the operation of the app from a suitable external controller.
A number of preset audio loops are included to get you started but you can import loops from elsewhere via AudioShare (this worked flawlessly for me) or by recording directly into the app. As with VirSyn’s other instrument apps, you also get a bank of seven effects (as those found within AudioEffx) that you can apply to the output from ReSlice for some extra ear candy. A full preset system exists, you can also save separate arpeggiator presets, and VirSyn’s usual randomise ‘dice’ buttons are present and correct in various places for when your inspiration needs a little AI nudge.
Nice slice baby
OK, so on to the more interesting elements in a little more detail…. When you open, import or record an audio file into ReSlice is automatically slices the file into a maximum of 32 slices based upon a transient detection algorithm. This obviously works great for drums or other sounds that have a sharp attack to each note/element… but will be less useful if you want to slice a sustained sound (although there are plenty of ways ReSlice could be fun with such sustained sounds).
Once sliced, you can then edit the slice positions, remove unwanted slices or add new slices between existing slices (up to a maximum of 32). This is all very easy and intuitive and perhaps my only workflow frustration here was that it would have been nice to be able to zoom into the waveform on occasions to position slices more precisely.
With the slices all sorted, and with the arpeggiator options turned off (i.e., not running), ReSlice now functions as a simple slice triggering sample playback device. Slices are simply mapped to a suitable MIDI key range and can be triggered as such. You can, therefore, manually create you own rhythms for a sliced drum loop, for example….
This is a very useful thing to be able to do in its own right and I had a lot of fun with just this feature… and because ReSlice sits quite happily as an AU plugin within Cubasis (or other AU hosts), it’s easy to program new and multiple rhythms from your loop… and to have multiple instances of ReSlice with different loops to build a complete project from.
Underneath the slice/waveform display are a series of buttons. These include the Import and Record options but also buttons that then allow you to set things like the pitch, level, pan, attack, delay, release and reverse conditions on a per-slice basis. This is hugely creative even if you just, for example, start panning different drum hit slices around the stereo field.
However, there are clearly lots more options here. For example, with the attack, decay and release options, if you slice a sustained pad sound, this opens up all sorts of interesting ways to then manipulate and blend different sections of the pad on playback. Sound design folk could have a lot of fun with this….
If that was all you could do with ReSlice then I’d happily say it was a great buy for those who like to mangle loops. However, as stated earlier, that’s not all that’s on offer; we also have arpeggiator. If you open the Arp tab (via the tab buttons located top-left) and somewhat different take on VirSyn’s usual arpeggiator appears.
The upper portion of the screen provide a three-lane step sequencer where you can set the note, octave and key settings on a per-step basis within a sequence of 32 steps. Depending upon the status of the Pitch Mode button, the Note lane allows you to either control a pitch-shift of any slice triggered on that step within a +/-12 semitone range or simply to offset the slice selection (with no pitch-shift). When you have played with ReSlice a little, come back to this sentence and read it again as this one button actually changes the way the arpeggiator works in quite a fundamental fashion. Both ‘modes are, however, equally interesting.
You can, of course, leave steps ‘blank’ so that no slice will be played back on that step to create whatever rhythmic pattern you require. The Note lane interacts with the Octave lane that will add a further octave shift at any step required. The range allows you to go +/-3 octaves.
The final Key lane is the one that takes a little getting used to. When you trigger a note or notes via your MIDI keyboard, ReSlice numbers these based upon their pitch. The lowest note you press is note 1, the next highest is note 2… and so on. And, of course, each key you press is mapped to a different slice within the loop.
The Key lane allows you to set which note number is triggered at each step of the sequence. As shown in some of the screenshots, this number can range between 1 and 8 (so you can hold down up to 8 notes on your keyboard at any one time) and there is also an ‘All’ option that will play all the notes (slices) currently being held at the same time – effectively a ‘chord’ based upon the slices.
This is all very interesting when you actually set the arpeggiator running as you simply hold down a few notes and you get a selection of slices triggered based upon whatever pattern of note/key combinations you have specified in the various lanes. If your Key lane includes a step where, for example, note 4 is due to be triggered, but you are only holding down three notes, then nothing gets played on the step where key 4 is specified…. and you get yet another way to add variety ‘live’ into the generated slice sequence.
Still with me? Well hang on tight because there is a bit more…. Aside from the virtual keyboard, the lower half of the Arp page also includes the four ‘Track’ controls. While the arpeggiator pattern you have just created stays the same, the Track features allow you to ‘run’ through that pattern in four different ways and, what’s more, you can have as few or as many of these four ‘tracks’ running at the same time as you like.
The rather beautiful (from a rhythmic point of view) thing here is that the four tracks can be set with their own step length (you can configure the start and end step for each Track individually), have their own pitch offset, have their own step offset, run at different relative tempos (the Clock setting) and, for Tracks 2, 3 and 4, set a Tempo Drift (this latter feature was just a bit too wild for me but I guess some folks will find a use for it).
If you want to keep things simple (well, simple-ish), then you set Track 1 to 16 or 32 steps, configure the Key, Octave and Note lanes as required, hit the Run button for Track 1 and then start trying various note combinations via your MIDI keyboard to see what pops out. With a drum loop as a starting point, what you end up with all sorts of variations on the basic rhythm dictated by the Note lane in the arpeggiator….. change your MIDI notes and you get different slices played in the same basic rhythm…. again, very cool and very creative….
However, if you then trigger a second Track to run, perhaps with a different step count, different starting point and different timebase and things get even more rhythmically interesting…. or a third or a fourth…. well, if you like something that starts simple but can easily generate interweaving polyrhythms then ReSlice is going to be right up your street. While the technology is somewhat different, the rhythmic possibilities are not a million miles away from what’s possible in Patterning when you set a different pattern step length for each of that app’s sounds.
OK, so my head now hurts….. but to summarise, ReSlice, despite its rather unspectacular outward appearance, is an incredibly powerful tool for breathing creative life into even the most mundane of audio sources.
There are other useful features included within the app – a keyboard ‘hold’ option, swing and gate settings, tap tempo, all the preset and randomise options for example, and the Ableton Link, AU support and MIDI Learn features all seem to work as advertised. Incidently, the way the UI for the AU version has been implemented – with three sub-pages you tab between – is a brilliant model for how to get a fuller feature set into the compact AU hosting window.
That’s not to say I didn’t experience the occasional wobble (audio disappeared on me a couple of times but a quick app re-launch seemed to sort that). Equally, the completely unreasonable greedy ‘want-it-all’ in me can also think of a couple of refinements that would be great to see. Count-in for the recording mode maybe? Option to trim start/end of files you have imported or recorded before slicing? Zoom in on the sliced waveform? Oh, and maybe a MIDI export option so you can place a MIDI file into your DAW/sequencer that will replay the original audio loop by triggering each slice in turn and in time (very ReCycle)?
Maybe there are a few other things also…. and maybe VirSyn have their own development ideas? Either way, don’t think these suggestions are in any way a criticism of what’s here or just how good I think ReSlice is…. It’s perhaps a niche application in many regards but, at what it does – squeezing the maximum life out of any audio loop you insert into it – it is very (VERY!) good.
If you have stayed with me this far, then I think you know what I’m going to say here. I like ReSlice a lot. It will not be an app that every iOS musician will need but, for those interested in electronic music styles, or who like to get creative with audio samples and turn something old into something new (over and over again), ReSlice is an absolute blast.
Software this clever and creative should not really be available for UK£7.99/US$9.99; ReSlice is an absolute bargain. Unless I’ve missed something, VirSyn do not currently offer ReSlice as one of their desktop products…. but, if they did, I’d be in the queue like a shot. Yes, there are perhaps other ways of doing the same job in the desktop world, but the ReSlice workflow and feature combination is brilliant…. and the fact that VirSyn have launched it for iOS is just another example of what the platform can bring in terms of creativity.
ReSlice…. the best thing since sliced bread….? Well, perhaps not, but a great app at a great price from a great developer. Chop, chop…. go get it…..